Volunteer Award 2023 Nominee – Roger Last

Nominated for: the research and conservation aspects of a CGT and reaching new audiences to encourage interest and/or involvement in garden history.

Roger Last collated and part-wrote, edited, and worked with a local printer to publish Norfolk Gardens Trust’s latest book ‘Enticing Paths’, in September 2021 and this prompted NGT to nominate Roger for the Volunteer Award 2023.

Norfolk Gardens Trust Chair, Matthew Martin, says: “Not only has Roger worked incredibly hard to produce this well-received 480-page hardback book containing over 500 colour images, but he did it during the most challenging of times, under Covid lockdown conditions when archives were shut and travelling to take photos of people’s maps, pictures or documents was very difficult. It is impossible to calculate the hundreds of hours, communications and miles travelled, that Roger has undertaken, whilst working on Enticing Paths, for our Trust. We would like to thank him sincerely by nominating him for the Gardens Trust’s Volunteer Award.”

Enticing Paths is a treasury of Norfolk Gardens and Gardening. The idea for the book arose from 23 articles written for Norfolk Gardens Trust’s Garden History Journals, which Roger also edited, between the mid-1990s and 2012. The 23 articles that form the book were chosen to demonstrate a wide range of Norfolk garden-related themes which, as far as Roger knew, did not appear in print elsewhere. Roger’s criteria for selecting which articles would be developed into chapters for Enticing Paths, was that they had to appeal to as wide a reading audience as possible, as well as preserving their information for the future.

Rowan Mantell (Eastern Daily Press Feature Writer and Norfolk Magazine Assistant Editor) wrote in an article ‘It is a fascinating, and beautiful, stroll through the garden history of Norfolk, in the company of charismatic experts.’

The topics Roger chose for the book range from ‘Norfolk’s Switzerland’ to ‘The Pleasure Gardens of Norwich’; from the ‘Engineering behind the Holkham Fountain’ to ‘Norwich’s War memorial Gardens’; from ‘Heyrick Greatorex’s Snowdrop Acre’ to ‘Norfolk’s Gardens in Art’. Norfolk Gardens Trust were pleased that Roger included a number of chapters which arose out of his own research articles for the NGT Journal, as he is an engaging and very readable writer himself.

Roger worked with the articles’ authors to digitise and update their original content before starting his search for many more images to lavishly illustrate their text. This included over 130 of Roger’s own quality photographs, taken especially for this book. For the remaining images he worked tirelessly to source digital files and obtain permissions to publish images for free or at a reasonable cost to our Trust. The book’s beautiful illustrations are truly inspiring. Once Roger had amassed the amended texts and images, he started to edit and collate the book at home, before working with the designer at Swallowtail Print in Norwich to lay the book out to his satisfaction. Roger’s dedication and attention to detail ensured that this was done as efficiently as possible to keep the production costs as low as he could.

Roger arranged the venue for the Enticing Path’s launch party and worked with our NGT events coordinator to put on an evening reception with speeches and live music at Raynham Hall, for over 100 NGT members and guests. The book subsequently received a lot of publicity in local magazines, attention on social media and acclaim on BBC Radio Norfolk. Not only did this sell copies of the books but over 40 people joined NGT between the end of September 2021 and the beginning of February 2022; a time of year which is normally very quiet before the new programme of events is advertised.

Roger was able to draw on his own previous experience of being the driving force and main editor of NGT’s first book, Norfolk Gardens and Designed Landscapes, published in 2013. This 460-page gazetteer of 320 parks and gardens in the county, was illustrated with 430 colour plates and took over 15 years to produce. To date it has sold 2500 copies, over 3 print runs by Windgather Press.  It is probably no coincidence that the Norfolk Gardens Trust’s membership numbers have risen by 250% since the publication of Roger’s first book, Norfolk Gardens and Designed Landscapes. It is still selling in local bookshops and has introduced many people to the work NGT does and given them a new appreciation of the many and varied designed green spaces in our county. Roger encouraged the initial research when he was NGT Chairman in the late 1990s and early 2000s and made sure this gazetteer crossed the publishing finishing line in 2013. It has been an invaluable source of information for NGT’s planning and conservation officers, when responding to applications or submitting evidence to the Gardens Trust’s conservation team.

Norfolk Gardens Trust Chair Matthew Martin says “Roger is a consistent attendee at NGT Committee meetings and has well-considered opinions on many aspects of the different activities we undertake. He is passionate about all historic parks and gardens, particularly those in his native county, and is someone we can ask for advice or garden knowledge. For many years he has been amassing thousands of images of gardens, plans, maps and paintings of Norfolk sites, in a digital archive for NGT, which is a wonderful resource for our bi-annual members’ magazine as well as for those undertaking private research or studying landscape history at UEA. No volunteer has worked harder or longer on NGTs behalf than Roger.”

On his nomination Roger said “I was delighted that Norfolk Gardens Trust allowed me to spend a very large part of their funds on producing ‘Enticing Paths’. But it did place an enormous responsibility on me to deliver a book which would have both academic and popular appeal, and importantly sell. Fortunately all went well, although at times the workload was a burden, the subject was such a pleasure to work on, especially assembling new material. I am naturally delighted to be included in this years nominations, an inspiring field, and I wish everyone nominated the very best.’